The Department of the Interior today announced the start of a public process to explore expanding incentives for voluntary partnerships with private landowners and other land stewards to help conserve imperiled wildlife. The effort is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s commitment to use innovative approaches to restore and protect the habitats for wildlife, improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act, and to strengthen local economies by preserving working lands.
“Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are among our nation’s greatest champions for conservation, and we all have a stake in ensuring that working lands remain healthy for our economy and for future generations,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “Through this process, we are looking at ways to give private landowners and other stewards of the landscape more tools and support to provide important habitat for wildlife that is at risk.”
Today’s action opens a comment period on ways the Fish and Wildlife Service can make existing conservation tools more effective, such as Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also seeking comments on how to improve incentives, such as pre-approved conservation credits, for landowners and others to take voluntary conservation actions beneficial to species that are candidates for addition to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, and for other at-risk species.
“If we can help species stabilize and improve the health of at-risk wildlife before they need the protection of the Endangered Species Act, we all benefit,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We want to do all we can to help keep working lands healthy because we know it’s not just good for wildlife, but it’s also important to local communities, farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, and other recreationists.”
To see what stakeholders are saying about today’s Fish and Wildlife Service action, click here.
The announcement comes on the heels of a new partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Service and Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to offer financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to restore and protect the habitats for seven at-risk species across the nation. The Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative will prioritize $33 million in restoration actions on a large regional scale to most cost effectively focus assistance. In return for voluntarily making habitat improvements on their lands, the Fish and Wildlife Service will provide landowners with regulatory certainty that they will not be asked to take additional conservation actions.
“The successes that we hope to achieve through the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative will serve as a model for a more efficient, more effective, and more cooperative effort to conserve this nation’s most imperiled wildlife,” said Ashe. “By improving the health and diversity of working landscapes, we can provide better habitat for wildlife and strengthen local economies by protecting the way of life that families in rural America have maintained for decades.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with landowners to reverse species declines when possible. Ashe noted that early and effective actions to address threats to imperiled species, like candidate conservation agreements, could lead the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that the species does not require the protection of the ESA.
Potential ideas for improving incentives to landowners include establishing conservation “banks” for candidate and other at-risk species. Already in use in many parts of the country for listed species, conservation banks sell credits that allow landowners to offset the impact of their activities on those species, as well as to buy credits that reward landowners for making habitat improvements. By focusing its resources strategically, the bank can conserve habitat on a landscape scale and provide greater benefits to a species rather than having small, isolated patches of habitat on many different properties. Also under consideration is the development of a new type of agreement that would provide landowners with assurances that conservation actions taken to benefit species prior to listing could be used to offset the adverse effects of activities carried out later, in the event the species is listed.
To view the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Expanding Incentives for Voluntary Conservation Actions under the Endangered Species Act, visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
For more information on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s current landowner tools, visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
Written comments and information concerning incentives for private land conservation of at-risk species can be submitted by one of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; or
- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments are requested within 60 days, on or before May 14, 2012. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.
For further information, please contact Jim Serfis, Chief, Office of Communications and Candidate Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203, telephone 703–358–2171.